John 5:15-17, “The man went away, and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well. For this reason the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because He was doing these things on the Sabbath. But He answered them, ‘My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.” So Jesus deliberately chooses the Sabbath day. He’ll do it again in John 9 and He’s done it before- for example, in Luke 4, in Capernaum, he healed on the Sabbath and the word probably got out by this time to the Sanhedrin.
There were a lot of controversies over the Sabbath. John wants us to see this issue. Jesus says that He’s fulfilling the Sabbath; He’s the Lord of the Sabbath. This is a major claim. He’s showing His authority and He’s doing this deliberately. Look at Matthew 12. As you recall, Jesus went to the grain fields on the Sabbath, his disciples became hungry and they began to pick the heads of grain and eat. The Pharisees were quite upset by this and then Jesus claims that something greater is here than the Sabbath traditions. He says that the Son of Man is really the Lord of the Sabbath as He’ll also say in Luke 12:8. Matthew 12:8-14, “For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Departing from there, He went into their synagogue. And a man was there whose hand was withered. And they questioned Jesus, asking, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’- so that they might accuse Him. And He said to them, ‘What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.’ Then He said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand!’ He stretched it out, and it was restored to normal, like the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.” The point here is that this has been an ongoing litany of controversy in these conflict stories and it centers on this tradition.
John is going to record a claim that Jesus is making that’s quite, quite radical along these lines. We see him deliberately doing this and it raises some controversy in which there’s going to be some very real trouble. His defense is going to be that the Sabbath was made for man. What was it for? It was to give them physical rest and also to kind of recharge them spiritually. Wasn’t it for relationships, to give them vitality and to give them an opportunity to enjoy God and each other? That was the point of the Sabbath. What’s happened is that the religious leaders and their traditions have so ossified it that they make it into a context of misery. People had to invent clever, little loopholes to get around it. For example, they came to define the Sabbath days’ journey as 3/5 of a mile. They’d have placed a meal there, almost like a little lunch, they’d eat and that’d become their new home and then they could go another 3/5 of a mile. This is bizarre stuff. If they think God’s going to be taken in by that- it’s incredible! It’s another chapter in my book, People Must Think God is Stupid! A book I’ll never write but one I’d love to write! When you look at religious observances, if you really analyze what people think- do they really think they can dupe God with these crazy, little loopholes and practices? God is not taken in by that. Most religions think they can bamboozle God- Hey; I got You in a loophole! I got You on a technicality. That’s some of the last words of W.C. Fields when he was found on his deathbed with a bible. Someone asked him what he was doing with a bible. He replied, “I’m looking for a loophole!” That doesn’t work!
John 5:18, “For this reason therefore the Jews were seeking all the more to kill, Him because He not only was breaking the Sabbath, but also was calling God His own Father, making Himself equal with God.” How does this work? Here’s what we’ve got here. You see His own activity is paradoxically an expression of the Sabbath rest of God who actually keeps no Sabbath rest week by week but actually, His sustaining work is always at work. My Father’s working until now. I’m working. That is to say, everyday the Father is at work sustaining the world, keeping things in control. Just as my Father is working and that His rest is a perpetual rest but it’s a work rest, a faith rest, in a very real way. He’s sustaining things but His is a perfect “shalom” in the same way. Jesus says I also am working and that I go beyond just the Sabbath traditions. This continuous and perfect activity, which is a unique characteristic of God that Jesus seems to be displaying and claiming. The Jews correctly see the meaning of His dissertation and it arouses in them a murderous hatred because He’s claiming- look, if in fact the Father is always at work and if I am doing the work of My Father then when I heal on the Sabbath then I am actually doing what the Father calls Me to do. I am not only His Ambassador; I am His Agent in this world. He makes Himself in effect like God. They understand that. It’s interesting to me that the Pharisees, the religious leaders, had a better grasp of Jesus’ claims often than His own disciples. Very often, they had a clearer picture of the implications because it was a shrewdness that was going on here. They wanted to kill Him. This is a motif that goes throughout the scriptures- the desire to really put Him away and to kill Him. In fact, if you’ll take a look at a few verses here in John 15:18, Jesus will tell His disciples this very thing. “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.” Then He goes on to say in v. 25, “But they have done this to fulfill the word that is written in their Law, ‘They hated Me without a cause.’ They would hate the One who would be sent by God.
We have to ask ourselves this question. What if Jesus hadn’t come then but He came now, in our own time? How would the church, the religious establishment, receive him? Now, of course, that’s a strange question because the church is based upon Jesus’ coming. But in another sense though, you actually had this question, what if He were to come a second time after His first coming but came again in secrecy rather than to come in a second advent? How would we react to His claims?
Look with me at John 7:19, “Did not Moses give you the Law, and yet none of you carries out the Law? Why do you seek to kill Me?” Again in v. 25, “So some of the people of Jerusalem were saying, ‘Is this not the man whom they are seeking to kill?” John 8:37, “I know that you are Abraham’s descendants; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you.” John 8:59, “Therefore they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.” This motif becomes a growing context of tension.
John 5:19, “Therefore Jesus answered and was saying to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.” So He is really saying that He cannot act independently of God because of the uniqueness of the Father-Son relationship that He enjoys. In ordinary father-son relationships, the love of the father for his son or the obedience of the son to the father is not perfect. In this relationship the Son is true to His Father’s word. You recall the accusation, You are right in what I say but here’s what I must do and if you’ll recall this concept here is something that we’ve seen again and again- the liar, lunatic, Lord dilemma. Recall this idea that C.S. Lewis came up with in his book Mere Christianity. “I’m trying here to prevent any one from saying foolish things that people often say about Him,” says Lewis. “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher but I’m not ready to accept His claim to be God. This is the one thing we must not say.” Lewis writes, “A man who is merely a man and said the sorts of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg or else he would be the devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was and is the Son of God or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool. You can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about Him being a great human teacher. That’s not an option,” he says. “Look, He might be a liar. If He was wrong and He knew He was wrong, He was lying. Or if He was wrong and He didn’t know He was wrong, He was crazy, absolutely nuts. Or if He wasn’t wrong, He was right, then what does that make Him? He’s the living Lord.”
Many people are now claiming there’s a fourth El and call Him a legend. Scholars are increasingly pointing, if anything, to the authority and reliability of the scriptures, the gospels, as reliable narratives. When we hear things about the Jesus Seminar and some of these groups, they pose themselves as being in the mainline but they’re actually fringe scholars. They’re not in the mainline of real scholarship. The real strength of scholars, both evangelical and liberal, but in the mainline, still affirm that these gospel accounts have tremendous authority. You can’t just write it off as a total legend. They were written too early, there were too many witnesses who were around and there were too many things that would defeat the legend theory from being the case. Let’s look at His claims. First of all He says everything I do I do from the Father. Now in v. 19-23, He’s going to be claiming equality with God Himself.
John 5:29, “For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself is doing; and the Father will show Him greater works than these, so that you will marvel.” It shows the Father works and He shares His love and His works. That’s why He’s called My Beloved Son in the first three gospels and also in John 3:35. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand.
John 5:21, “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes.” He’s going from the lesser to the mightier. If He’s the Lord of the Sabbath, He’s even more than that. He’s also the One who is the Lord of life itself. He has the authority of life and death- the power to raise the dead. That power belongs to God alone. We have the clearest expressions of the sovereign acts of God- the raising of men from death to life and the passing of the final judgment upon them. These are the prerogatives of God alone. Genesis 18:25b, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” Deuteronomy 32:39, “See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me; it is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal. And there is no one who can deliver from My hand.” Jesus is claiming this very prerogative in this text.
John 5:21-22, “For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son also gives life to whom He wishes. For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son.” This is another radical claim. Not only does He raise people from the dead but He also is the One who will actually give judgment. He has authority not only to raise the dead but also to judge the living and the dead. This is a powerful claim that He makes and He goes even further in v. 23.
John 5:23, “So that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.” He saying men must honor Me just as they honor God and that word for honor is the word for worship.
Jesus did come to bring love and tolerance, not to sin but to follow the Scriptures. A lot of people have the mistaken idea that Jesus is a way but not the way. They think people can come to God in their own ways. That’s not an option. Jesus is making salvation available. You can decide if He’s wrong but if you take Him seriously, He’s claiming to be the way. Now that teaching will not make you popular. You have to understand that. Nor did it make Him popular in His day as well. It’s a strong teaching but I’m not making it up. Don’t shoot the messenger! The fact is that this is exactly what He claims. You have to ask yourself if Jesus isn’t the way, what options do you have? I’ll tell you what it is. Your option is you’ve got to work your way to God. It’s not going to be by grace through faith and the finished work of Christ on your behalf. Every other option is called bootstrap theology. You know how it works. You grab your bootstraps and try to lift yourself up into heaven. It doesn’t work. That’s the only option I know of. Every other religion, every cult, they all teach human works. If God’s perfect, how do you think you’re going to make it? We can’t even be perfect with our friends or with our loved ones. How can we be perfect before God? You see the point here? It’s a dilemma. In fact, Jesus is the One who claimed the human heart is actually the problem. We have a heart problem- both in the sins of the flesh and also sins of the spirit. These sins include coveting, envy, malice, and pride. Who of us have never had those problems? You see, we say, “I’m not an adulterer or I haven’t committed murder.” But the others will do very well. Jesus says it’s much more radical than you supposed. I think that’s one of the reasons that people water it down. This is not popular stuff in an age that elevates tolerance of truth as a virtue. Jesus, I find to be rather intolerant of error.
I want to stress the other side of that coin. Here it is. Anyone who seeks Him will find Him. You can chose not to seek Jesus but if you chose not to seek Him, you will not find Him. You have to figure out if you want to gamble your eternal destiny assuming that Jesus is wrong and you’re right. That’s the gamble that you’re going to make. What is your answer to the problem of the grave? Here we have One who has died and came back from the grave. He has the authority of life over death. I think I’m going to put my hands in Him rather than in my own speculations. That’s what He’s dealing with. Frankly, what’s happened in the first century has continued on and is even more rife today, especially among religious leaders. In fact, I don’t think He’d get a good reception at all if He came preaching the way He preached in the first century in many churches today. I think He’d be booted out of the churches. He’s utterly against the culture.
John 5:24, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” This is one of my favorite verses in the bible. Every believer has three possessions and I want you to notice these are present, not future possessions. First, he has eternal life (zoe). It is a new kind of life with a new quality. He already has it. You don’t have to wait until heaven to get that. He already has that gift when he hears My word and believes Him who sent Me. Secondly, he does not come into judgment. He is now in a condition where he is now accepted in the Beloved, in Christ Jesus. Therefore he is no longer going to be judged in the sense of the judgment of condemnation.
And if you think there’s fighting amongst so-called Christians today, just think if Jesus came back today and preached what He did back then!